Workers at the Home Depot in Northeast Philadelphia will vote this week to organize a union — if successful, they will be the first unionized Home Depot in the country.
Some workers from the store were joined by other local union groups and community members to rally in the Home Depot parking lot and drum up support.
About 20 people gathered, cheering for each other as they spoke about the benefits of being in a union.
Vince Quiles, the lead organizer for Home Depot Workers United, said workers have been facing union busting tactics from management, so having the support of other unions means a lot.
“For so long, they moved without impunity,” Quiles said. “And so this is just great to show support to the people in the building, feel support myself, and to remind Home Depot that there is a group of people out there who are out trying to do the right thing.”
Philadelphia unions represented at the rally were AFSCME DC 47 Locals 1723, 1739, 2187, and 2186, Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), American Federation of Teachers Local 4531, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Philadelphia Carpenters Local 158, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 52, and Amazonians United.
Quiles filed a union election petition in September with 106 workers’ signatures, to represent 266 employees in his unit — including merchandising, specialty, and operations associates.
The organizers then filed a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 14, alleging managers are using “surveillance” and “interrogation” to intimidate union organizers, and to stir fear among workers about unionizing.
“Your s*** has been called out,” Quiles said. “The things you’ve done in the dark have been brought to the light. We’re here to stay, we’re here to fight.”
Leslie DiSilva, from Frankford, is a member of AFSCME DC 47 Local 1723. She said her quality of life has improved since she joined a union.
DiSilva worked in restaurants for ten years. She said she wasn’t able to take time off and didn’t have healthcare. But since changing careers and unionizing, she bought a house with her husband, who is also in a union.
“Every single person who works in that store deserves the same quality of life and opportunity that I do,” Disilva said. “So union, yes, let’s support these workers as best we can. We all deserve dignity in our workplace.”
Mason Austin, member of AFSCME Local 2186, said both his parents were in unions too. “I know that afforded me a life that I couldn’t have had otherwise. And it currently affords me a life that I could not have otherwise, because they are able to afford a comfortable retirement,” Austin said. “And the thing that I care most about in this world is that my experience should not be the exception.”
Paul Blundell has been organizing workers in an Amazon warehouse in New Jersey.
“This is a field that really benefits from people having that long experience… and Home Depot Corporate doesn’t care about that,” Blundell said. “All they care about is the money and not investing in the people who are really going to allow us to physically build the world that we want to live in.”
Quiles said workers face workplace safety issues and understaffing. He and other union members are asking for higher wages, more transparency on Home Depot’s profit and wages across the board, and adequate training.
Home Depot spokesperson Sara Gorman said in a statement to WHYY, “We respect the right to unionize, we just don’t believe it’s the best solution for our associates.”
In response to the allegations listed in the NLRB complaint, Gorman said Home Depot will “cooperate” during the NLRB’s investigation, “and we’re confident we haven’t committed the alleged violations.”
Quiles said the fight to unionize is also about giving the workers a seat at the table in company decisions.
“If you want a better future, nobody’s going to come give that. You got to fight for it,” Quiles said. “This is how you fight for it.”
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